AAHPM Visionary: Nahla Gafer, MD

Nahla Gafer, MD
Clinical Oncologist, Radiation and Isotopes Centre Khartoum (RICK), Sudan

Who has most influenced your work and what impact has he or she had?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I would like to thank Esther Walker, MBE for introducing me to the world of palliative care. Her volunteering time, effort and money to help the patients set for me a clear guideline.

I learnt from her in an informal way and practically, throughout the course of two years: to put the patient first, to assess symptoms meticulously, to work as a team, to offer continuous care, and to manage patients holistically. I learnt to knock doors of ministers of health, put up proposals and plans to provide something, so important but yet possible to be done.

Along my journey I come across several other pioneers in palliative care, I learnt from Dr. Anne Merriman the importance of starting right with the proper ethos and ethics, from Dr. Mhoira Leng, that it is our duty to reach outside our small town or city and the importance of educating others, from Dr. Jim Cleary that we must speak for those in pain and do not have access to pain medication.

From Prof Frank Ferris I learnt to be strong and persistent in my goals, from my colleagues in the Arab world, Dr. Layth Yahya I learnt the importance of being well organized and guinuine, from Dr. Mohamed Bushnaq, the importance of perseverance and seeking alternative solution.

We – all those working in palliative medicine – have a call, to help, to give, to train, believing that a lot of suffering can be eliminated.

What does it mean to you to be named a Visionary in Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
The word “visionary” is so beautiful in meaning. I could not imagine a greater title. I have been selected to be on the same list with Dame Cicely Saunders, Prof Thomas Smith and Dr. M. R. Rajagopal.

I thank the AAHPM for recognizing my efforts, because sometimes I see hurdles in the way of providing palliative medicine inside my country. Without the international support I could not continue. In ASCO 2014 meeting, I was crying because, I have been working voluntarily for more than 6 years at that time to develop palliative care and palliative medicine services, training and education, but no one in position supported such efforts that helped patients throughout the continuum of their disease trajectory.

Such a great recognition helps me in my efforts internally and externally, and backs me up when I hit a difficult road.

This wonderful recognition from AAHPM gives me a greater task to raise up all my activities in the field to the level of my co-Visionaries, and to continue the mission that started a few years ago. My next task is to be involved more and more in bring out the evidence for Palliative Medicine, through research.

What is your vision for the future of Hospice and Palliative Medicine?
For me Palliative Medicine is the basis of Medicine, and the basics of Medicine should be the ethos, principles and ethics of palliative medicine: incorporating care for the patient from all aspects, including the family, being frank in a sensitive way, communicating properly with our patients and tackling all their problems in order to reduce the suffering, manage symptoms properly, and have a realistic plan for the patient and family that is cost-effective and allowing the patient to benefit the most of his/her situation.

Through the continuous efforts of colleagues working in the field, I see the future of Palliative Medicine as entering into all fields of medicine and patient care, and that is something so crucial and important for all patients and all people, because all of us one day will be patients of palliative care.

It is the duty of the strong and healthy to help the weak and sick. In this era of super-technology, there is no justification why people die in pain or suffering. Lack of education and access to medication should not be a permissible excuse when people across the globe can communicate instantaneously, and one can transverse hundreds of years of civilization within hours (I meant here riding a plane connecting 2 countries of different development indices).

More and more of policy makers will see the benefits of providing palliative medicine, and so for me, the future, I believe, for sure will be better than the past. A lot to be done, yes, but all the more rewarding.


Nahla Gafer is one of 30 individuals who have been named a Visionary in Hospice and Palliative Medicine by AAHPM for their 30th Anniversary in 2018. Learn more about the Visionary recognition and view a list of all current and past Visionaries.

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